Challenges of moving online for someone who stammers

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19 Jul
7 Sep

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We are all fully aware of recent changes to our society and human interactions due to Covid-19.

We have all been requested to move our lives online at some level, whether voluntarily or with stubborn reluctance. This has not been easy or even possible for some people due to technology and access limitations.

Everyday interactions that were conducted with people - meetings, coffee with friends, conversations on the street - have all moved online. Different platforms which have become newly familiar to us all such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google and Skype have allowed us to remain connected in so many ways. This dramatic and almost instant change to our lives has created challenges for everyone, but specifically for people who stammer and similarly as an employer or educator of someone who stammers.

As a person who stammers, there can be a real and present challenge of managing a new way of interacting in groups. We can no longer rely on regular social cues as indicators of when to speak up in a group conversation or meeting and instead, we need to wait until we have been called upon or given our allotted space to speak.

The immediacy and flow of conversation becomes dysfluent in itself.

Questions or apprehensions about moving online can stem from a variety of things; we have tried here to address some of the main concerns:

How can I talk online?

  • If you are uncomfortable speaking online, practice. Set up a mock meeting in Zoom or Skype with a friend or colleague sit online and talk about your subject matter.
  • One of the challenges for online meetings / conversation is maintaining eye contact! As you are naturally drawn to looking at either the picture of the speaker or yourself - that all important eye contact becomes missing from our conversation.
  • To help maintain eye contact with someone - place a small smiley face sticker or Post-it note / beside the camera on your laptop / device, this will remind you gently to look there but also to smile.
  • Some people find the viewing of themselves as distracting in meetings. We are not used to seeing ourselves constantly in this manner, so don't worry if you do become distracted by yourself. It is only natural. Some video call applications allow you to minimize or turn off the view of yourself. If this isn’t an option, you could place a small Post-it over the static image of yourself in a group meeting. Your awareness would then be drawn to looking at others rather than yourself, giving you opportunity to pick up on shallow social indicators in the conversation such as body language or facial expressions.

Will I be heard?

  • Check your equipment before the meeting. Most devices come with a basic level microphone built in, but if you are looking to host a meeting yourself, or you have a lot of background noise, you might consider a headset / microphone to increase the quality of your sound.
  • Will anyone hear my point?
  • If you have something to say, say it.
  • Each platform has different supports to allow people to interact in the call without talking – some will have a hands up ‘attention’ icon where others have text or chat functions.
  • Usually the host of the meeting will indicate how they would like to conduct interactions at the beginning, e.g. the host will mute participants until the end, or participants can text in questions or comments throughout
  • The important thing is to have your say. Follow the guidelines of the host and you will be heard.
  • What happens if my internet connection has a problem? Will people still understand me?
  • Internet connections can be unreliable, especially now that so many people are online at the same time. You may find that you made a really good point and no-one reacted – perhaps your Wi-Fi just had a glitch. This happens to everyone at some point or another. If they didn’t hear what you said then just clarify and explain the technology issue to the other participants. If you feel comfortable you can joke that it was your Wi-Fi going down that time and nothing to do with your stammer. But yes… being interrupted by the internet is frustrating too!

Will my speech be affected?

  • If you are nervous about interacting online, try not to worry. This is a new experience for most people! We are all relearning how to flow in conversation and when to speak up or have our say. It can be challenging at times for people who stammer - and people who don’t stammer. But if you find yourself particularly nervous, do a mock call with a family member or friend. Be patient with others but especially yourself.
  • If you are nervous especially about interacting, maybe set yourself a goal before the call begins to make '2 short interactions' until such a time where you feel comfortable enough to naturally have your say.
'Feel the fear and do it anyway' Susan Jeffers

There are a few things that someone who stammers can do before going online to help make the transition a little easier:

  1. Perhaps you would like to contact the host of the meeting in advance to explain some of your concerns and suggest to them to invite you into the conversation at different stages.
  2. Join the meeting early, the host will let you in when they are ready. Talk to others that are there to ease your nerves with the technology before the meeting begins.
  3. Practice! Practice with the technology, practice using it to speak with people you are already familiar with, get familiar with the different buttons on different platforms.

As an employer, if you are aware of someone in your team who stammers could you:

  1. Reach out to them beforehand or, at any stage in this crisis to see if they are managing the technology well and if they feel comfortable to be heard through this new means of communication?
  2. Consider a person who stammers when preparing/conducting the meeting.
  3. We are all learning new ways of working with this technology, but is there a certain stage of the call where you can invite different people to speak? Signposting an agenda or meeting plan in advance can be very helpful for someone who stammers.
  4. Giving a person who stammers additional time in the meeting to come forward can be very helpful.
  5. Try to avoid jumping in to complete their sentence or phrase, even if you see the person struggling. This can be really disempowering, especially in a group setting. Be patient, give them time. If you’re not sure what a person said, ask for clarification. It’s better than being misunderstood.
  6. Indicate to them that you are listening- we may not have eye contact to rely on, but you can still be seen. Facial expressions, a smile, nodding the head are all good indicators to someone who stammers that they are being heard and understood.

ISA have a dedicated employment support function for people who stammer and employers. If you have any queries or would like some support in the area, please contact us:

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